Top Student Artists Recognized
Art and inspiration on display at the 2011 Art & Writing Awards
Kid Reporter Grace McManus interviews Victoria Ford, Leo Laurenceau, and David Baldessari backstage at Carnegie Hall. (Photo: Stuart Ramson/Insider Images for Scholastic)
"I'm so excited!" exclaimed 18-year-old Victoria Ford. "I've never been to Carnegie Hall!"
But she was there onstage on May 31, 2011, as one of 1,500 winners in the 88th annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation's oldest and most prestigious program offering scholarships and recognition for creative teenagers.
High school senior Victoria said surviving her difficult Memphis childhood has been the "impetus" for her creativity. She received two Gold medals: one for her poetry and one for her nonfiction writing.
"Most of my writing focuses on my family," she said. "It kind of reveals things I've learned from my past, whether that be dealing with the hardships or finding something humorous in tragedy."
Tragedy struck Victoria's well-known political family when her father, former Tennessee state senator John Ford, was sent to prison three years ago for taking a bribe. Her mother was already in prison for her third drunk driving conviction. The family's home was about to be foreclosed on when a kind aunt saved Victoria and her three siblings from foster care.
But instead of giving up in the face of adversity, Victoria began to write.
"Promise me you'll forget the last night we saw Mama," she wrote in her award-winning essay, "To a Restless Little Brother Calling for Mama in His Sleep." "In the living room, when she was throwing pens, the holiday pictures, her dinner plate, the knife on the counter, anything she could get her hands on. Remember? I took you in my arms. Up the flight of stairs and called the police."
I asked Victoria if she ever doubted that she could become a good writer after so much hardship.
"All the time," she answered. "All the time." With no support system at home, she found it at school. "I owe a lot to my teachers and my classmates," she explained, saying that they helped her "tremendously."
Seventeen-year-old winner Leo Laurenceau also had doubts about his work, even though he won the Art Portfolio Gold Medal Award.
"I think every artist might have (doubts) at some point," he told me. "There's a lot of talent out there, and sometimes it's hard to think that you can live up to that."
A high school senior from Jersey City, New Jersey, Leo works mostly in self-portraits. His paintings are majestic. They look as if an artist with 100 years of experience had done them.
"They are very personal," he explained, "and they always have a deeper meaning than what's on the page. I want people to take out of it what they feel and what they see from the painting."
Past Winner Inspired by Today's
The Art & Writing Awards also included a special Alumni Achievement Award given to world-renowned conceptual artist John Baldessari. Baldessari won his Scholastic award in high school for a photograph he took. Now 80 years old, Baldessari says he didn't have "a clue" back then that he would be honored so many years later at Carnegie Hall.
"I never even thought I would be an artist until I was probably early 30s," he told me. "I just thought art was something you did on weekends for fun."
Today he finds inspiration in young artists. "They're the future," he explained, "and their optimism inspires me."
Words of Wisdom
Victoria Ford, Leo Laurenceau, and John Baldessari all had advice for kids who dream of achieving their own artistic goals.
"Stay focused and don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it," Victoria said, "Lean toward the people who do encourage you because they can get you very far."
Follow you dream and make it your own, Leo said. "Take whatever you have and go with it."
"Perseverance," Mr. Baldessari said, inspired by a quote he'd read from an old Japanese surfer giving advice that could apply to anybody. "He said, 'Paddle, paddle, paddle. Someday a big wave will come.' And boy that's helped me a lot. You've just got to be patient, and eventually something will happen."
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